When 7-year-old Caden Bobzien woke up Tuesday morning, he put on his favorite No. 52 football jersey and started counting the minutes until the start of that evening’s Grain Valley High School Eagles football camp.
“I think he asked his mom about every 15 minutes what time they were leaving for camp, beginning around 2:30,” Caden’s dad, Chad Bobzien, said, chuckling. “He loves football and he loves being out with the big guys – the high school players.”
Caden took over every drill he participated in, hitting the tackling wheel with great enthusiasm and paying great attention to his footwork in the blocking drills.
“Have you talked to Khalil?” Grain Valley defensive coordinator Pete Carpino said with a grin. “That’s him, right over there, wearing the (Chicago Bears) No. 52 jersey.”
He was pointing to Caden, who was wearing a Khalil Mack jersey.
“I just tell people to call me Khalil because I like him,” the youngster said, referring to the Bears star linebacker, who happens to wear No. 52. “So, tonight I’m Khalil.”
But, in a surprising twist, Caden said his dream is to play quarterback for the Eagles. That’s why he was especially entranced when Eagles quarterback Cole Keller spent some one-on-one time with him.
“I remember when I went to these camps and all the big guys were there,” said Keller, who will enter his junior year in the fall and his third season as the Eagles starting quarterback. “If a player was nice to me, or paid attention to me, I wanted to wear his number.
“I got all their autographs and thought they were big-time. And I know the little guys who are here today feel the same way about us, which is really cool. That’s why I want to make them all feel special.”
Senior middle linebacker Seth Dankenbring echoed his teammate’s comments.
“I thought (former Eagles) quarterback Kellen Holland was it – and he was so cool to me a camp when I was a little kid I changed my number to his No. 4,” said Dankenbring, who wears a necklace that features the No. 4.
“That’s why I love working the camps now. I remember how cool the players were to me when I was a little kid, and I want all these kids to have the same kinds of memories.”
Eagles head coach David Allie ran the camp of 56 youngsters, who are in second through seventh grade.
“We’re not working on schemes or anything like that,” said Allie, who is entering his sixth season at Grain Valley. “We’re working on skills and making sure everyone is having fun.”
No one was having more fun than Carpino, who had a word of encouragement for every young camper.
After one tiny camper managed to take the tackle wheel to the ground, Carpino high-fived him and shouted, “It’s like wrestling a gator!
“We’re all having so much fun. The little kids come out here all starry-eyed and want to do whatever they can to get a comment from a coach, and I want to make sure they all get a compliment and a pat on the back,” Carpino said.
While the Eagles players and coaches worked the camp, many of the young participants’ families spent time at a play area near the school entrance that featured an inflatable bounce house and barbecue.
“We want this night to be for everyone,” Eagles activities director Brandon Hart said, “so we let Coach Allie, his staff and the players take care of the camp and we stay up here and eat a lot of good food while the little brothers and sisters have a good time.”